The impact wrench is nothing more than a stronger and more convenient tool than the basic torque wrench, but many a mechanic–pro and amateur alike–still keep one handy.
Quickly, let’s understand exactly what a torque wrench is, then we will consider whether or not it is the right choice for you, and finally we can go about making some recommendations.
First of all, the word “torque” means “power” when simply put. However, to be more specific, it applies to the power applied while in a twisting or turning motion. You probably do not need to hear this, but we will add it for any newcomers to the tool arena.
Not all torque is the same!
What exactly does this mean? Take a look at cars, for example. Would you take your grandma’s old Toyota Corolla and race it against a brand-new Lamborghini Aventador? (Well, you might if you’re just looking for fun memories to tell about later…but you definitely WILL NOT win!). Barring an unfortunate loss of control or unlikely malfunction, the Lamborghini will make mincemeat out of you and you may or may not have problems understanding why gramma’s car did not perform up to standards, despite your foot having been made of Superman-killing lead.
So, what causes certain cars to be faster or stronger than others? Well, think about it:
We have “horsepower,” which is not to be confused with “torque.” HP (horsepower) is basically the measurable output of power, whereas torque is the force being directly applied to create the resulting power or, in the case of cars, horsepower. There is a bit of an argument in the automotive community about which is important but, according to most professionals, it is not really possible to have a lot of good, powerful results with both (check out this article over at hotrod.com if you are interested in a more exhaustive explanation).
In short, the application of more power will result in more output force. Sounds simple, right? Great! So why do we need a “torque” wrench, since all wrenches are perfectly capable of tightening a nut or bolt?
Well, that is where the tricky and sadly often overlooked part comes in.
If you are like I was growing up, then you never had abundant access to a plethora of tools, much less permission, knowledge of said tools, or even knowledge of what “plethora” even meant! However, as time has gone by, my understanding of tools has increased alongside my vocabulary.
If you have ever broken or stripped a bolt or screw because of over-tightening, then the torque wrench would have been your savior. By setting the applied force (torque) correctly on your wrench, the bolt or screw can be perfectly tightened, safely and without damaging the device, nut, bolt, or screw. This reason is more than enough to give rise to its invention, which is 100 years as of 2018.
This has truly been a tool to last.
So do you actually need one of these little dandies around? Upon first thought and without knowing your situation, the typical answer is “Yes,” especially for a simple click-wrench with accompanying socket set–this has long been a staple in my toolkit, ever since I was old enough to buy my own tools. We did not add it to our Essential Tools List, but that is only because we have opted to put all our eggs into the basket of the cordless impact wrench.
The Bottom Line
If you are considering or already have a cordless impact for portable power and convenience, then you need not worry too much about having the extra, manual torque wrench. Remember that the torque wrench itself is made for a specific purpose and that is to tighten but not OVER-tighten. What are the chances that you will need to use it often enough to justify picking one up and carrying it everywhere? If you already have the torque adjustment you need in your cordless impact, then it can be an easy decision just to forego the manual one.
However, if you do not have or are not looking to have a battery-powered cordless impact handy, then it would be practical and make sense to pick one up and nab a socket set to accompany it (just be aware of the measurements–socket sizes).
In the end, get what you believe you need or what you desire–it’s best to be prepared!